In what we are working for
Unify citizens to counter planned obsolescence challenges.
Influence decision-makers to improve laws.
Encourage manufacturers to create sustainable and repairable products.
Understanding planned obsolescence: what it is and its challenges at a glance.
Planned obsolescence is the conscious reduction of product life in order to accelerate product renewal. France was the first country in the world to ban this practice in 2015. It can be punished with 2 year imprisonment and €300,000 fine and up to 5% of the annual average turnover.
We fight planned obsolescence, looking for solutions
The fundamentals in a few words
Questions & answers
After a first legal proposal was made in 2013 and a second one in 2014 (to no avail), the French political group Europe-Ecology-The Greens finally managed to introduce the offence of defined and punished planned obsolescence in the French law on energy transition (22 of July, 2015). Articles L441-2 and L454-6 of the French Consumer Code now state:
Planned obsolescence is defined as a group of techniques through which a manufacturer or a marketer seeks to deliberately reduce the life cycle of a product in order to increase its replacement rate.
It is punishable with a two-year imprisonment sentence and a € 300,000 fine. The amount of the fine can be raised up to 5% of the average annual turnover in proportion to the advantages drawn from the breach, calculated over the last three known yearly turnovers on the date the events took place.
The fact that planned obsolescence is now recognised as an offence by law provides a real opportunity to change things. If consumers are unlikely to file complaints about a broken washing machine for instance and if they probably have no means to prove that it is faulty, a consumer group can. This is why we wish to bring together a wide community of consumers and collect data on cases of planned obsolescence in order to finally take legal group actions.
During parliamentary debates, those who denigrated this new offence cited the difficulties to implement repressive measures, particularly in light of evidence being brought forth. Yet, the arguments can be set aside inasmuch as practice lets people answer them, particularly based on penal jurisprudence.
Beyond the definition, other legislative measures enable planned obsolescence to be reduced. Here is a legislative planned obsolescence-related inventory:
- Marketers must disclose the duration during which they vouchsafe the availability of spare parts for each machine and any other goods so that this can become a criterion for choice (art. L.111-3 of the Consumer Code). Nevertheless, it seems the implementing decree remains obscure…
- The efficiency period for the legal warranty of all consumer goods is extended from six months to two years (art. L.211-7 of the Consumer Code).
- The fight against planned obsolescence is subject to government reports to Parliament before March 2015… No reaction (art. 8 of the law on consumption).
- Introduction of the definition of circular economy including “an extension of product life cycle duration” into the Environment Code (art. L.110-1-1 of the Environment Code).
- The fight against planned obsolescence of manufactured goods for consumers is turning into one of the goals specified in article L.541-1 of the Environment Code.
- Implementing life cycle duration experiments concerning several consumer goods such as electric household equipment. This is more than a mere experiment! (art. L.541-1 of the Environment Code).
- Introduction of the planned obsolescence offence defined as a ploy through which a product life cycle has deliberately been reduced right from its conception (art. L.213-4-1 of the Consumer Code). This offence could enable consumer groups and even environmental groups to take legal actions.
- Government report on warranty duration extension to 5 or even 10 years.
- Introduction of several proposals promoting collaborative and functioning economies indirectly increasing product life cycles. Indeed, inasmuch as manufacturers retain ownership of the goods and only yield their use, it is in their interest to increase their quality and resistance.
- Financial contributions received by eco-organisations to recycle waste they are in charge of are adapted according to environmental criteria related to life cycles in particular (art. L.541-10 of the Environment Code).
The March 2014 law on consumption and the August 2015 law on energetic transition mark undeniable progress in the fight against planned obsolescence; yet, further complementary measures can be usefully adopted at national and European levels in order to lastingly change our way to consume and produce.
Planned obsolescence can take various shapes, amongst which:
- technical obsolescence, also called functional or structural obsolescence: when the product no longer works due to the limited life cycle of one of its essential and irremovable components; indirect obsolescence is also mentioned when spare parts are made unreachable or withdrawn from the market (i.e. the glass part of your coffee-maker is no longer sold);
- aesthetic, also called psychological or cultural obsolescence: an ‘out-of-fashion’ effect when a professional shortly sells new products praised as more efficient in promotional campaigns (i.e. a company already possesses the new technological advance it reserves for its next product to be sold a few months later);
- software obsolescence: this applies to software renewal for smartphones and computers for instance. A series of techniques can be used: obsolescence seen as a marketing campaign aiming at making the new version of the software vital and the former one completely outdated; the technical assistance time limit in relation to the duration of the actual use; or format incompatibility between former and new software versions.
Planned obsolescence was theorised by Bernard London in 1932 as a technique used to boost an economic model running on empty. Economic growth lies on the stimulation of production and consumption. The more you consume, the more orders companies get and the more they invest to produce even more, which theoretically increases employment and turnover. VAT also relies on consumption, which pushes public authorities to strongly encourage it in order to fund public expenditures. Our economic and social model relies on overconsumption, which must be renewed endlessly.
The fight against planned obsolescence implies changing our economic model. It’s a question of producing and consuming less, better, locally and in an environmentally friendly way. If the end of planned obsolescence implies mutations in terms of employment, it also creates new opportunities in other sectors. Thanks to circular, collaborative, functional, social and solidarity economy, it is possible to consider new types of jobs in repairing, services, sustainable development, local agriculture and many other sectors. At the same time, it involves initiating a global reflection on lifestyles, exchanges of goods and services, design, work and voluntary simplicity.
No, increasing the lifespan of products will not reduce consumer purchasing power, quite the opposite!
Currently, modest households suffer a double penalty: goods of poor quality and that have to be replaced frequently. Some argue that low-end goods provide easier access to consumption because they are cheaper but not only are low-quality products reserved for those with smaller means, they also have to be replaced more often, thus losing reducing purchasing power in the long run.
If planned obsolescence is synonymous with major economic and social consequences, it also and mainly jeopardises environment conservation. In a context marked by a climate urgency and an increased scarcity of resources, planned obsolescence implies an exponential exploitation of raw materials. To address an artificially created demand, the environment is dramatically damaged: excavating vast quantities of soil, clearing grounds, cutting down trees and destroying fertile land which we so greatly need to ensure food safety.
The growing household demand for electric and electronic high-tech consumer equipment that requires rare metals and large quantities or energy for their production is also problematic. A mobile phone alone can contain up to 12 different metals, representing about 25% of the total weight of the device. Thus, planned obsolescence contributes to the increase of an unsustainable ecological footprint.
The growing increase in waste is also a crucial issue. Incinerated, buried or thrown into the sea, pollution caused by waste has dramatic consequences, both for biodiversity and human health. Let’s not forget that 20 to 50 million tonnes of waste from electrical goods and appliances are produced each year worldwide and that about half of it fuels informal economies in developing countries. Between 16 and 20 kilos of electrical goods and appliances per person are thrown away each year in France, which makes the environmental issue caused by planned obsolescence more and more worrying.
Many consumers have already experienced planned obsolescence. On top of penalising consumers’ purchasing power – as they are forced to replace their devices with new ones – planned obsolescence generates a feeling of frustration and alienation.
Planned obsolescence is also the indirect cause of very difficult working conditions for subcontractors – particularly in developing countries. Indeed, the reduction in the lifespan of goods is accompanied by a reduction in production costs which weighs on employees. Finally, planned obsolescence promotes unsustainable consumer behaviours and increasingly institutionalises a culture of disposable goods.